Speculation that shooting and angling could be under threat from government is totally unfounded.It is an idea that has been carefully nurtured by those who defend hunting and want to drag shooters and fishermen into their dispute.It has been argued by some that the two principles which underpin the hunting bill – cruelty and utility – somehow threaten the future of these popular activities.

That is why I have made it clear at every opportunitythat those concerns are totally unfounded. It is not just that the government has no intention of curtailing either angling or shooting; in fact, we have a manifesto commitment to both. We value the contribution they make to the environment, local economies and wildlife management.

The government is actively pursuing the clear manifesto commitment to promote and develop shooting and fishing.

Both sports benefit the social, economic and environmental well-being of rural areas as they often supplement incomes and provide employment.They both also contribute to conservation of habitats, landscapes and wildlife.

The facts speak for themselves:

  • Professional gamekeepers have an influence on the management of more than seven million hectares.
  • Twenty three per cent of upland Britain and 80 per cent of small woods in England are managed for game.
  • Heather moorlands in northern England are, in part, maintained for raising game birds.
  • Endangered species benefiting from these practices include curlew and golden plover.
  • The red kite is a bird of prey which is now thriving on lowland estates managed for gamebirds and is an excellent example of a species which has been given a future, through the co-operation of landowners and gamekeepers.

Game shooting can also provide a variety of home-produced food, changing with the seasons. It also has a part to play in the development and marketing of provisions that have a connection with sustainable land management.

It is estimated that anglers spend three billion pounds a year on their sport while around 12,000 jobs depend on the sale of fishing tackle.In addition, the angling tackle market is estimated to be worth about £250m, while sales of fishing tackle, bait and magazines are worth nearly ?400m.It is clear that angling makes a significant contribution to the economy. Anglers often travel to fish and, particularly in rural areas, use local accommodation, restaurants and other amenities generating additional income.The framework for government policy on angling and the management of salmon and freshwater fisheries has effectively been set by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review Group report, published in 2000, and the government’s response to it.

The report made nearly 200 recommendations and the government has accepted most in full or in part.Among a range of other issues, the report highlighted the need for an anglers’ consultative forum to advise government and the Environment Agency on angling policies.The review report highlighted the recreational benefits of angling and its importance as an outdoor activity for young people.The government supports this view and encourages all relevant bodies to work together to help promote angling.If we were anti-angling we would not have set up the independent fisheries review, nor accepted thevast majority of its recommendations, nor announced an increase of ?3m in fisheries grant-in-aid to the Environment Agency.

In short, the suggestion that the government might seek to ban shooting and angling in this Bill or any future Bill is nonsensical and ignores all statements and actions which clearly demonstrate government support for both sports.The pattern is different on hunting.

Year after year, the House of Commons has voted for regulation to limit hunting. Debates have demonstrated polarised views and taken up a massive amount of Parliamentary time over the years. That is why we have a manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to resolve the issue.Readers of COUNTRY LIFE and its online edition will be aware that MPs have made clear on several occasions that Parliament seeks a resolution to the specific issue of hunting with dogs.

I introduced a Bill in December which offers a lasting solution to the issue. The Bill is based on clear principles. Most people believe that the real problem is cruelty, not people’s choice of recreation, and the Countryside Alliance agrees that ‘if it’s cruel we shouldn’t be doing it.’ Cruelty is clearly defined as “causing unnecessary cruelty.” That’s why different forms of hunting are judged against whether they are necessary or useful (the utility test) and provide the means of pest control that involve ‘least suffering.’The legislation is designed to be clear and is based on evidence collected during an unprecedented period of consultation.

The bill would ban hare coursing events. They simply cannot pass the utility test since the purpose of the activity is only to test the speed and agility of dogs. It has no pest control value.The Bill would ban deer hunting, as evidence shows it is unnecessarily cruel and the alternative of stalking and shooting is more effective for controlling the deer population.Other forms of hunting will be tested.

The tests for those who want to undertake another form of hunting are whether it is necessary for a pest control purpose (the utility test) and whether it is the way of achieving that purpose which causes the least suffering (the cruelty test).It should be absolutely clear that shooting and fishing are not the targets of the bill and will not be affected by its passage into law.I underlined the government’s support for shooting and angling during visits to the Country Land and Business Association’s game fair last summer and the National Angling Summit in November.